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Case

Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation

Last Updated: 5/29/2020

Overview

What's at stake

  • Whether a Presidential program that funds conferences where community groups, including religious groups, learn how to apply for government grants, can be challenged in court as violating the Establishment Clause by persons with no other connection to the program than that they pay taxes.

Summary

President George W. Bush, by executive order, created the Office of Faith Based Initiatives and several other offices to help faith-based groups to apply for and receive federal funds for various programs that aid the poor and needy.  Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist organization advocating extreme views on the Establishment Clause, filed a lawsuit with three of its members, challenging the funding of conferences by these Executive Branch offices that explained to community groups how to apply for and receive federal grants.  The atheist group claimed that these White House conferences directed their focus on religious groups, and “singled [them] out as particularly worthy of federal funding.”

Generally, federal taxpayers lack standing to challenge federal funding programs because they have not suffered any particular harm from the program.  The Supreme Court has carved out a narrow exception to that general rule when taxpayers allege that the government’s expenditure of money violates the Establishment Clause. However, in this case, the Court ruled that the taxpayers lacked sufficient connection to this Executive Branch expenditure to claim any harm that would allow them to go into court.  The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of this lawsuit, and never reached the merits on the Establishment Clause claims. 

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom wrote an amicus brief in the case arguing that taxpayers lack standing under Article III of the Constitution to challenge the expenditures here as violating the Establishment Clause.  The Supreme Court agreed with this position in its opinion.  This ruling has served as important precedent to block lawsuits by taxpayers challenging government programs they claim violate the Establishment Clause when the taxpayers have no connection to the challenged program.  If taxpayers cannot show some specific injury that they suffer from this program, then they cannot challenge it in court. 

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